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Agriculture and Mining

Farmers march to Supreme Court to demand fair share of coco levy fund

September 20, 2012 7:48pm

Over a thousand coconut farmers marched to the Supreme Court (SC) and Mendiola bridge Thursday to demand their fair share of the coco levy fund.

Ed Mora, chair of the farmers’ group Pambansang Kaisahan ng mga Magbubukid sa Pilipinas, said they went to the SC around noon and handed over the petition to reverse a ruling which favored brewery tycoon Eduardo Cojuangco.

“Ipinaglalaban namin na ang coco levy ay mabalik sa mga magsasaka… Malinaw na dapat sa mga magsasaka at hindi kay Cojuangco,” Mora told GMA News Online in a phone interview, referring to the San Miguel shares.

Last December, the high court under then-Chief Justice Renato Corona ruled that Cojuangco’s 20-percent equity in brewery San Miguel Corp. (SMC) does not form part of the coco levy funds.

The court favored Cojuangco since government was not able to prove that he was “a close associate of Marcos.”

Corona was impeached by the Senate last May.

The coco levy controversy evolved in the 1970s when President Ferdinand Marcos and people close to him, supposedly including Cojuangco, allegedly conspired to tax coconut farmers, promising them the development of the coconut industry and a share in the investments.

But the money was allegedly used for Cojuangco’s personal profit, particularly for buying United Coconut Planters Bank (UCPB) and equity in SMC.

Mora revealed that farmer-leaders will meet up with Communications Secretary Ricky Carandang on October 15 to talk about the farmers’ request to personally meet with President Benigno Aquino III.

In a statement, Maribel Luzara of the Kilusan ng mga Magsasaka ng Bondoc Peninsula said that the coco levy controversy continued even after Martial Law.

“Tapos na ang martial law, pero patuloy pa din ang pagkamkam sa coco levy, dahil pinipigilan pa din ng mga mayayaman ang pagbabalik sa magsasaka ng buwis na binayaran nila,” Luzara said in a statement.

Farmers’ ally

The farmers found an ally in Quezon representative and House deputy speaker Lorenzo "Erin" Tañada, who said that while the high court should be insulated from outside pressures, “in rare circumstances the protective barrier must be breached in the name of a higher cause.”

“And if there were ever a worthy higher cause that could excuse breaching the insulation around the Supreme Court, it would be the recovery of the coconut levy,” Tañada noted.

He said that the farmers have no choice but to appeal to the Supreme Court’s “sense of justice.”

“This is a matter of justice for the coconut farmers, and in that light what they are doing is not so much exerting pressure to compel a favorable decision, but exercising their freedom of expression to raise awareness in the High Court that a grave injustice has been done,” Tañada said.

Sereno court

In an earlier report, the group expressed their hopes that they would get a favorable court decison under the leadership of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.

Sereno was one of four justices who dissented against the decision to declare Cojuangco as the true owner of the 20-percent stake in SMC.

“The fact that Sereno was one of the four justices creates a window that should be explored,” said lawyer Jae Dela Cruz of the Coalition of Coconut Farmers.

In her dissenting opinion, Sereno considered as fallacious the ruling that Cojuangco is not a close associate of Marcos.

“It is unbelievable that the fallacy that the two of them were not close associates, and that respondent did not enjoy considerable privileges during the deposed President’s administration could be proposed now,” Sereno wrote. — BM, GMA News
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